babu1's picture

Photographing energetic insects

Does anyone have tips to improve quality of insect photos? For instance, a captive creature in a dish is desperate to escape, leaps/flies/hops madly. A lid or clingfilm distorts the picture. This is especially a problem with very small insects where the camera has to be very close.
Are there containers available with a really clear lid?
Unfortunately I've not yet got beyond auto shoot.



Dioctria's picture

Try experimenting with flash

I'm not sure what type of camera you use but I'd try experimenting with flash. It can give the pictures a slightly unreal/studio feel at times but it certainly helps with sharpness, which is what you need for identification. If your camera has an aperture mode you can also try stopping down the aperture a bit for more depth of field, knowing that the flash will sort the exposure and freeze the subject. If the flash is too harsh you could also try taping a bit of tracing or tissue paper over it as a home-made diffuser. I use an old film cannister over the flash, like this, though on a cheaper camera.

Mind you, my subjects are all in the wild so you'd probably have to experiment to avoid reflections if photographing captive subjects.

With regard to clear boxes, NHBS and other sources sell sets of tins with clear glass tops that might meet your needs.


ophrys's picture


If you stick the insect in the fridge for a while, in the pot, in many species that will calm it down for a short while. How long you leave them in there depends on the type of insect and the squeamishness of others in your house(!). Trial and error will prove how long different species require to calm down. In my experience, Noctuid moths calm down quickly, as do hoverflies; just 15 mins or so, for example. However, they also warm up quickly once removed, so you need to get the camera set up and ready to go, to get the shot in time, before those wings start to vibrate...


My Flickr photos...

babu1's picture

NHBS boxes

David's recommendation of these boxes - great! Clarity of the lids means pics can be taken through the glass.

S Tomkins

babu1's picture

I tried your chill trick with

I tried your chill trick with newly hatched braconid - it works! It being a very small creature, it soon got leaping around, but I had maybe 2/3 minutes.
I also found that, by putting it between 2 specimen box lids and propping vertically, it moved to the light (window) side, so I could focus on the back of the insect.

S Tomkins

miked's picture

Insects can indeed be tricky

Insects can indeed be tricky to photograph if they are running about. Its not just that they move but also there is very little depth of field when you get close so the section that is in focus with big close-ups may only be 1mm. So the other bit of advice is to take lots of photos realising that only a few will be any good and that different ones may have different important bits of the invert in focus and sharp.
I prefer natural light for photos but for inverts I often resort to flash because they are moving or I can't hold the camera steady enough myself or get tripod set up in the right place (before they move). Using diffuser is good idea, I used to use a largish 20cm ish softbox over the camera mounted flash this gives very nice natural looking light but often bashes the twigs and other things so now tend to use a pair of small flashes attached to front of lens. With this setup the camera is supposed to automatically calculate the exposure and get it right every time, 'supposed' is the operative word here as you still have to check the images and camera still quite often gets exposure wrong. Still the idea of taking lots of images is good whatever kind of kit you have.

babu1's picture

Energetic insects

Thankyou all for good advice. I've checked out and have ordered the collecting tins as suggested by David. They should be helpful for snapping small animals in the field before replacing them on their twig.
Really like Ophreys' 'Chill' hint and will try it on the next beasty I capture - they'll think winter has returned!
I've got a Canon 1000D plus 60mm macro lens so can get pretty close and have produced quite a lot of images which have been ID'd, though I've not been aware enough of focussing on different parts - next time!
I do take lots of images as suggested and have tried diffusing with a tissue but David's film pod won't fall off or blow away. I've got some somewhere, just have to empty one of its beads.

S Tomkins

DavidHowdon's picture

Knock them out

A brief exposure to ethyl acetate should knock many insects out and allow them to be photographed.
Longer exposure will kill them if you need to retain specimens.

David Howdon